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Cracking the Secret Code of Car Names

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How a jumble of numbers and letters came to convey fanciness, while cute names came to mean value.

Jaguar has stuck with the alpha-numeric names, as with this classic XK140 convertible. SI GRIFFITHS/CC BY-SA 3.0

See if you can guess which of these cars is a luxury car and which is a cheaper, mass-market car, just by the name:

ES350
A8
Yaris
LT200
Spark
Velozes
C300
Fiesta

Chances are, you picked the alphanumeric names as the luxury cars and the name-names as mass-market cars. You did this even though there are at least two cars in there you’ve never heard of, because I just made them up.

How did this happen? Why do alphanumerics read “fancy” to us, when applied to a car? Why do the least appealing names refer to the theoretically most appealing cars?

In the early days of gas-powered automobiles, many used either alphanumeric names or extremely literal names. The alphanumeric names weren’t meaningless strings of letters and numbers, not at that point; they could refer to all kinds of things. Ford, for example, created the Model A, then the Model B, and so on down the alphabet until they came to the most famous of all, the Model T. (Not all of those models became anything more than prototypes, but still.)

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